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California: 05/28/17

California  by Edan Lepucki

California by Edan Lepucki is a near future dystopian novel set probably in Southern California — though the exact location is never specified. It's apparent location is guessable by the places left behind (Los Angeles, for example).

The title isn't so much about the state (or what's left of it) but of Calvin "California" and his wife Frida. Or if you're reading this in terms of another dystopian survival story, Lord of the Flies, Cal and Frida can be seen like Sam and Eric and become one character, Calandfrida or if you squint, California.

Besides being like Lord of the Flies, the novel reminds me of a thematic cross between the 1987 film, Cherry 2000 (for the defunct Southern California setting) and the song "(Nothing but) Flowers" by the Talking Heads.

California, though a recent novel conforms with the sort of road narratives I was first exploring in 1995. In the 1970s-1980s, many post apocalyptic road stories had their second act set in or end at a vehicle graveyard. The story usually involved a hero either on a quest for some lost piece of tech or a heroine in flight from some villain and the solution to their problems — whether it was the location of the lost tech or a place to hide and learn self defense — was in one of these junkyards. Now the weirdest examples of this trope is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer film from 1992 where Buffy first comes in contact with the vampires and her powers as a slayer amongst the Rose Parade floats.

For California the graveyard is described as a parking lot and a hotel surrounded by spikes — some made to look like trees and others made to look more threatening, like an obvious "do not enter." The edge of this property is also marked by a school bus in remarkably good repair. While the extended second act of this book takes place within the confines of this old hotel and grounds, the trope dictates that Cal and Frida are merely sojourning there.

An engaging dystopian, such as California or The Fog Diver will give enough hints to say where the story is taking place. Although the blurb for this book says that Cal and Frida have left Los Angeles "far behind them," anyone who knows present day Los Angeles knows its scale and how difficult that would be as society crumbles.

The descriptions, though, of the hotel and surrounds are vague enough to not give a definitive location. Originally I pegged somewhere like Hemet or Big Bear but later I narrowed my focus to Los Angeles itself, namely to Watts and the Watts Towers Arts Center. The oldest spires — besides the one that sounds like a defunct tree shaped cell phone tower, are described as being artistic creations, rather than defensive ones. The original name of the towers is "Nuestro pueblo," or "our town" descriptive of the community that Cal and Frida find.

Regardless of where the majority of the novel is set, it's an interesting cautionary tale of how various stresses on society could bring the crumbling end of the cities we now know. It's not a single event — rather a series of bad storms across the country, a new Great Depression — one that can no longer support Hollywood and the California university systems. It's a really bad time when even Hollywood has to pack up shop — given that they've historically been able to ride out depressions and recessions.

It's also not a dystopian where the entire world goes quiet. We are left out of the loop for most of the book because the main characters have elected to go off grid (or what remains of it). In the third act when the chose to return to society we do get a brief glimpse of what it has become — or rather what the privileged end of society has become.

Five stars

Comments (2)

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Comment #1: Monday, May 29, 2017 at 09:42:09

Laurel-Rain Snow

I have this one on my Kindle and moved it forward after reading the author's newest book, Woman No. 17. Sounds good...thanks for sharing.

Comment #2: Monday, May 29, 2017 at 10:30:00


Likewise, I plan to read Woman No. 17 — although after I read through the other new releases I have on hand.

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